THE “nightmarish” situation to enforce planning regulations in Mid Devon has led to a newly proposed policy being halted so it can be improved.

Several residents spoke out against the revised policy put in front of Mid Devon District Council’s scrutiny committee, and were backed by a majority of councillors who felt it lacked rigour.

The authority has struggled with planning enforcement, with around 300 live cases and its last remaining permanent enforcement officer leaving.

“There are instances around the district which are nothing short of nightmarish for people,” said Cllr Rachel Gilmour (Liberal Democrat, Clare and Shuttern), who chairs the scrutiny committee.

“And for us as a council, we need to scrutinise this policy effectively and tighten it up.”

Her Lib Dem colleague, Cllr Gwen Duchesne (Halberton), proposed that the scrutiny committee should ask for the proposal to be redrafted, particularly in light of the strong public feeling.

“Given the comments from the members of the public who have had time to look into this in far greater detail, I would like to suggest that this policy is not quite ready to go to cabinet, and should return to the planning policy advisory group for amendment,” she said.

“I suggest we do this so our concerns are dealt with. I appreciate the work that has been done, but if you look at different policies (at other councils) there are a lot of discrepancies here, and we could make it tighter and save future problems.”

Cllr Emma Buczkowski (Liberal Democrat, Cullompton St Andrew’s) disagreed, and suggested that the proposed policy should be sent to cabinet with the scrutiny committee’s concerns.

The cabinet member for planning, Cllr Steven Keable (Liberal Democrat, Taw Vale), said the meeting at which the policy had been created was “well attended, with good debate and discussion” as well as a “unanimous recommendation” to send it to cabinet via the scrutiny committee.

However, when both options were put to the vote, seven councillors voted to send the policy back to its authors, with two members abstaining and three voting against.

Councils aren’t required by law to undertake planning enforcement. However, residents are usually keen for planning breaches to be addressed and applicable punishments given.

Resident Louise Doyle said the policy as it stood was a “green light for non-compliance by developers”.

“This policy is not similar to East Devon’s, even though it says it is,” she said.

“East Devon’s has timelines and targets, and commitments to investigate low, medium and high risk cases. So does Mid Devon accept that the two approaches are chalk and cheese?” she asked.

Sarah Coffin, a former chair of Templeton Parish Council, said the proposed changes “would just mean the enforcement waiting list grows”.

She described an issue in her parish of residents complaining about various health issues because of emissions allegedly coming from a nearby slurry pit, adding that residents had repeatedly asked for the council to take action.

“The council should fit a cover on ‘the farmer’s’ behalf and claim reimbursement, as is permitted by the Environment Act,” she added.

Back in 2017, farmer Winston Reed denied the slurry pit on his farm was responsible for any health issues and said he would take action against any “false comments”.

He was, however, fined £9,500 by the Environment Agency in 2018 for polluting a tributary of the River Exe as silage effluent was entering the water course instead of a slurry store.

Resident Nick Quinn said the proposed enforcement policy “confirms nothing is done for the vast majority of reported breaches”.

He also cited a specific example of a reported planning breach, and asked the council whether it would issue “an immediate stop notice”.

Bradley Gerrard